Surrounded by the thickly wooded hills of the western Appalachians and cradled between three rivers, the city of Pittsburgh is an attractive place to visit. Founded by the French in the eighteenth century, it became home to a steel industry, which at one time powered most of the United States and produced millionaire philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie. Today it is a green and modern metropolis full of sporting and cultural attractions. Places to visit in Pittsburgh range from riverside parks to world-class museums, and foodie delights to historic monuments.
10. Phipps Conservatory
Donated to the city by a real estate mogul in 1893, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are a Victorian oasis in Schenley Park, Oakland. One of their major attractions is the beautiful 13-room Victorian glasshouse whose displays change with the seasons. Outside, there are Japanese, perennial, aquatic and children’s gardens, along with gardens specially built to attract or house butterflies and birds, and a sensory garden. A new addition is the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of the world’s most eco-friendly buildings. Open every day from 9.30, until 10 on Friday and 5 other days, adult tickets are $15.
9. PNC Park
One of America’s most appealing ballparks and home to the Pirates, the PNC at 15 Federal Street offers fabulous views across the city and the Allegheny River, reasonably priced seats and plenty of great food. Opened in 2001 when the old field was demolished, its architecture harks back to the style of classic ballparks while incorporating twenty- first century facilities and its opening has encouraged the revitalization of the North Shore neighborhood. Take the T (subway) to the North Shore and walk across the bridge over the beautiful Allegheny River on the way back, or stop in at one of the many sports bars near the park: McFadden’s is a local favorite.
8. Carnegie Museum of Natural History
One of the best tourist places in Pittsburgh if you’re travelling with kids is this fascinating museum at 4400 Forbes Avenue in Oakland, near the university district. There’s a hands-on science area, a bone-hunters quarry where kids can put on goggles and dig for fossils and, at weekends only, dinosaur tours, which take you back to the Mesozoic era. Grown-ups will be absorbed by the sobering Population Impact exhibition – get your mojo back with a drink at the cool Crazy Mocha Coffee next door. Admission to the museum is $19.95 per adult and $11.95 for children between 3 and 18, but there’s a 50% discount after 3pm on Wednesdays.
7. Carnegie Science Center
If the Natural History museum has whetted your appetite, head over to another Carnegie-sponsored attraction: the Science Centre at 1 Allegheny Avenue. Four floors of interactive exhibits for all ages, a real Cold-War era submarine, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit, a miniature railroad and a walk-in replica of an International Space Station are just some of its attractions, so set aside a day to make the most of your visit. It’s open Sunday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm, and Saturday 10 to 7, but usually closes on the days of major events at Heinz Field because of heavy traffic. Tickets cost $18.95 per adult and $11.95 per child, with an extra $5 if you want to see the Omimax film or laser show.
6. The Strip
Pittsburgh’s coolest street and foodie heaven with low prices and a fabulous selection is The Strip. Bordering Downtown and running alongside the Allegheny River, The Strip is a half-mile stretch where friends and family hang out, shop, relax and eat. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and pastries hangs in the air, and open-air markets offer everything you’ve ever eaten and a few things you haven’t. Every ethnicity has its shop or stall, and enthusiastic vendors are more than happy to advise on how to cook their wares. More recently, clothes stores, furniture outlets, jewelers and little art galleries have set up among the food shops and the area as a whole is in an interesting state of transition: many of the original warehouses and business buildings still stand among the restaurants and growing number of trendy loft developments.
5. Fort Pitt Museum
Another of the coolest things to do in Pittsburgh if you’ve brought the kids is Fort Pitt Museum. It stands in historic Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh’s ‘Golden Triangle’, and offers 12,000 square feet of Pittsburgher history through the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the birth of the modern city. Sited in an excavated eighteenth century fort, with recreations of barrack life and a fur trader’s cabin as well as gruesome two hundred year old rifle locks and musket balls, it’s an evocative space for tales of frontier history and the role of Native Americans in the area’s development. Open seven days a week 10am to 5pm, admission tickets starting at $5 include a visit to the equally interesting Heinz History Center on Smallbone Street.
4. Kennywood Park
Kennywood Park, just a few minutes from Downtown, has been providing family fun for 117 years and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Starting out as a small trolley park in 1898, Kennywood now offers six roller coasters, 10 classic rides and 14 Kiddie rides, and if you need a break from the fun, there are family-friendly shows playing on various stages round the park or any one of the dozen food outlets. For older kids, Phantom Fright Nights offer terrifying rides through places like ‘Voodoo Bayou’ and ‘the Villa of the Vampires’ (over-thirteens’ only). Open daily from May to October, prices range from $49.99 to $124.99
3. The Frank Lloyd Wright tour
If you have any interest in architecture or design, you’ll want to make the trip out of town to see three of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces: Fallinghouse, Duncan House and Kentuck Knob. Fallinghouse, the spectacular hillside house, which Wright designed in the 1930s for a Pittsburgh department store magnate, is the easiest if you’re short of time. There are guided tours every day except Wednesdays from 10 to 4, tickets from $25 are bookable online, and children must be over six. If you want to stay for the weekend in the beautiful Laurel Highlands and visit the other houses as well, there are also plenty of hiking trails, a 435-acre geological park at Laurel Caverns and a reconstructed battlefield and 18th century Fort at Uniontown for history enthusiasts.
2. Water sports
Three rivers embrace Pittsburgh and no visit is complete without time spent on – or at least by – the water. You can fish, scull, kayak, canoe or powerboat, with boat launches and marinas along all three waterfronts. Kayak Pittsburgh rents solo and tandem kayaks and canoes from the heart of downtown and the Three Rivers Rowing Association offers rowing, kayaking and dragon boating on the North Shore. You can do some peaceful fishing from Point State Park or North Shore River Park, or shoot some white water on the Youghiogheny with White Water Adventurers or Laurel Highlands River Tours, who cater for every level of skill and experience. There’s no excuse for not getting your feet wet.
1. Mount Washington
Without a doubt, the most romantic place in Pittsburgh is Mount Washington, site of countless proposals. Grandview Avenue, aptly named, runs the length of the mountain and gives fabulous views of the city skyline and the three rivers. Take a ride up the slope on the century-old cable car, visit the little museum at the top which gives you a brief tour of Pittsburgh’s history and lets you examine the 19th century machinery which hauled you up here. The car runs 365 days a year, prices from $5 per round trip. When you’ve had your fill of the views, explore the pretty neighborhood of Shiloh Street, with its array of independent shops and eat in one of the many hilltop restaurants before returning to the city below.
Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Pittsburgh to experience clement weather, but if you’re there in search of culture, you’ll find top class events year-round. Remember that although traffic can be dense, there are plenty of bike rentals and the city’s subway is free to ride in the Golden Triangle, which houses many of the main tourist attractions in Pittsburgh.